The Sinulog Festival which is celebrated every 3rd week of January in Cebu commemorates the feast of the Sto. Nino. For those who aren’t aware of the origin of Sinulog, let me share with you what I've researched.
When Ferdinand Magellan (a Portuguese explorer conquering territories for Spain) came to the Philippines in 1521, he introduced Roman Catholicism and presented a small statue of the child Jesus to the wife of Rajah Humabon as a baptismal gift.
When the statue was handed to Humabon’s wife, it was said that she held the statue and danced with joy. The other natives danced with her and this was considered the first Sinulog. This explains why in Sinulog, the ladies and muses dance with a Sto. Nino statue.
Going back to the story, Magellan was killed in a battle with Lapu-Lapu a few days after Magellan's arrival and the rest of his soldiers went back to Spain.
Forty-four years after, Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arrived in Cebu. One of his men found a wooden box containing the statue of the Sto. Nino in a burning village together with pagan idols. Later on, the friars who accompanied Legazpi in that expedition, proclaimed the statue performed miracles and they built a church around the site where the statue was found. This church is today’s Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino where the original Sto. Nino statue is housed.
It was my first time to attend the Sinulog Festival last weekend and not one of the articles I read prepared me for it. So to manage one’s expectations if you plan to attend the Sinulog Festival in the future, let me share with you some travel tips.
- Book your airfare way in advance like 8 to 12 months ahead. We booked 6 months before and our airfare was almost at regular rate (unless you choose flight schedules at odd hours). For hotels, some only accept bookings starting September but you need to prepay the full amount upon booking.
- If you want to watch the grand street parade (which usually falls on a Sunday), book a hotel in the Fuente Circle area. The grand parade is whole day – starting at around 930am and lasts until the evening. Most food establishments are jampacked and don’t have toilets so if your hotel is just nearby, you can quickly go back to and from the parade.
- When we were researching about Sinulog, some gave tips to be at the Fuente Circle as early as 6am to get prime spots. But based on our experience, if you’re booked within the Fuente Circle area, you can just go there even as late as 830am – that is, if you don’t mind just standing 2 or 3 people behind the performers. Besides, even if you get a prime spot, when floats of celebrities pass by, the crowd gets crazy and people will just find a way to occupy the space in front of you and climbed the fence. I’m not kidding! Haha…
Here are some of the floats of stars during the parade. You know when a float of celebrities is coming because it drives the crowd into a frenzy.
I'm not familiar with all of the stars so when I rejoined my friend, I asked her if she knew who the celebrities were. She goes "I don't know but I heard one is Kimchee". I said it's Kim Chiu not Kimchee! Ok, she's even worse than me! Haha...
- If you want to take photos, the best time is in the morning. As early as 7am, performers start assembling at the Fuente Circle for the parade. You can walk along the main road to take close-up shots and performers would also gamely pose for photos. Here are some of the shots I took before the start of the parade.
Once the parade starts, the main road will be cordoned off and only professional photographers are allowed inside the parade track.
Some blogs say that if you dress like a professional photographer, you could blend in with the Media and possibly get away with taking shots within the parade path. But nope, we didn’t attempt because we don't look pro at all. Haha…
And the crowd around mid-afternoon.
The only reason why I was able to take photos despite the thickness of the crowd is because my camera (Olympus OMD-EM5) has a tilting screen which allows me to take photos over the head. Here are some shots I took using my camera's tilting screen.
With these shots, it isn't obvious that I was way behind the crowd.:)
- Don’t bring anything on the parade – a cap and a camera would do. Just in case you forget your cap, you can also buy colorful straw hats for as low as Php25. And don't worry about getting dehydrated or hungry, there are a lot of roving food vendors.
- There are gaps (sometimes short, sometimes long) in between groups of performers during the parade so if you're standing, it could be tiring. A day before the parade, we got cheapo plastic chairs at True Value at the nearby Robinsons Mall for Php50, then we just gave them away to a food vendor when we decided to walk around.
- Even with the jolly mood and colorful festivity, exhaustion will eventually seep in. My friend and I had to go back to the hotel a few times throughout the day for toilet breaks, to eat and even take a nap! Just imagine, we were just spectators and we felt so exhausted - what more the Sinulog performers who are dancing and moving around non-stop under the heat of the sun!
- Don't expect to see the original Sto. Nino statue during the parade because it isn't part of it. If you want to see it, you have to join (or watch) the Saturday procession (either the early fluvial procession or the procession around the city). Of course, we didn't know about this so we didn't end up seeing the original statue (at all) during our stay. We also attempted to go to the Basilica but all the streets surrounding the church were packed. But it's ok since we did see a lot of Sto. Nino statues during the parade.
- The only downside to being booked in a hotel in the Fuente Circle area is you're pretty much stuck in that area since most roads leading to the Circle are closed and you have to walk a long way to get access to public transportation. In the evenings though, there are food stalls and shows at the Fuente Circle if you want to check them out. BTW, it's still Christmas-themed at Fuente Circle during Sinulog! :)
- And finally, just have fun! :)